Your Potential Congregation

By: Win Arn and W. Charles Arn

Here is a powerful concept that will help translate “church-centered disciple-making” into a natural part of your church’s planning and activities. It is a concept that should soon become a way of thinking for every church leader, officer, and staff member. The concept: your “Potential Congregation.”

Let’s take a closer look at the idea of your church’s Potential Congregation since it has important implications to the success of every church member’s plan for reaching his/her Extended Family.*


The records in your church presently identify a group of individuals and families who comprise the “members of your congregation. ” These people are listed in the church directory, and are people about whom various information is kept. Perhaps their participation in church events is recorded. Most of the activities, programs, and classes planned by church leaders are done so with this group of members in mind. Most church leaders rightly feel that a major function of the church is to care for those members, to be responsive to their needs, and to provide a unique opportunity through the church for personal and spiritual
growth. That is good, and the way it should be. Building up the Body is a significant function of the church.

Now consider the implications to your church’s ministry if the definition of the “members of your congregation” were expanded. While the responsibilities for service to members would be the same, the “membership” of the congregation would now include new people . . . all those people, in fact, in the Extended Family of your present members. It is this group of people that form your church’s Potential Congregation. They are quite winnable and waiting to be won.

In so re-defining its “congregation,” your church enlarges and extends considerably its view of ministry. Your church’s concern now extends beyond its present members to include all these potential disciples. Now you are not only serving existing members–who might be called your “Worshiping Congregation,” but as a church you are responding to and ministering to those who make up your Potential Congregation as well. And, like the members of your Worshiping Congregation, the members of your Potential Congregation can be identified by name, information can be gathered on each, needs identified. and programs developed.


What is the impact of such a new view of your church and congregational responsibilities? How will this new view of disciple-making affect your church’s outreach strategy and planning?

Here are six important implications:

1. Your church, when it identifies its Potential Congregation, focuses on a specific and identifiable group of winnable people.

The members of your Potential Congregation are people outside the Body of Christ, but people inside the Extended Families of present members; therefore they are very closely related to your church. The people within your church’s Potential Congregation are significantly more reachable and winnable than those not in the web of present members.

An interesting study underscores the fact that friends and relatives are a key in the process of making a religious decision. The Mormon sect keeps accurate records of the successes and failures of its mission endeavors. A study published in the American Journal of Sociology reports that the “success rate” of the Mormon missionaries, who go from door to door calling, is approximately .1 percent (one conversion per 1,000 contacts). However, when these same missionaries present the Mormon message in the home of one of their church members to a non-Mormon neighbor, the success rate jumps fifty percent! The article “How to Share the Message with Your Neighbors” published in their national magazine exemplifies their strategy of encouraging relationships between members and neighbors to convert new people to their beliefs.

2. Your church, when it identifies its Potential Congregation, focuses its caring ministry.

Caring is a beautiful and important function of the Body of Christ. Too often however people have to be on the “inside” to experience it. In your Potential Congregation an exciting new possibility opens to your church. Caring continues to be a major function in the life of the congregation. and is still focused on the needs and concerns of its present members. However, this caring is now also extended to the members of your Potential Congregation and opens an important new group of people as recipients to the church’s concern. The need to be cared for and loved is a need common to all individuals. The church that
focuses its caring ministry on both present members and potential members will see significant results as those in the Potential
Congregation respond to this caring and become new disciples. The church is exemplifying the love of God in His name.

3. Your church, when it identifies its Potential Congregation, focuses programming to meet needs.

Most ministries in a church are planned for the members of that congregation. The “youth ministry” is for the youth in the church. The “music ministry” is generally for the benefit and involvement of members in the church. The “minister of education” is paid to organize Christian education to nurture church members.

A Potential Congregation will help your church evaluate and prioritize its programming efforts. While programming and ministry are still focused on the needs and interests of members, the expanded definition of “members” now means programming and planning considerations include Potential Congregation members as well. Of course every event in the church is not expected to focus on both groups. But over the course of the church year, there should be equal consideration given to each group in the overall planning, development, and appropriation of church resources.

In the planning of programs, special events, and seminars, the unique needs and interests of members in your church’s Potential Congregation should be carefully considered. Because the needs and interests of non-Christians differ, don’t assume that all members of your Potential Congregation will respond to one type of programming. Just as every member of your Worshiping Congregation would probably not be interested in the women’s brunch, or the young married’s class, or the single’s retreat, potential disciples will have a variety of interests as well. In planning ministry to your Potential Congregation, take into account
the unique qualities of these potential disciples. They have special concerns and interests, family situations, certain images of the church and its people. It is around the unique needs of both Worshiping Congregation members and Potential Congregation members that your church should concern itself in planning for effective ministry.

4. Your church, when it identifies Potential Congregation, experiences increased morale.

A minister of evangelism recently recalled to us the tremendous change in morale as a result of successful outreach strategy in their church to friends and relatives. “At first, when the new members were presented to the congregation for baptism,” he recalled, “most people in the church didn’t quite know what to do. It had been a long time since that many people had joined the church at one time. But as the months went on, and more friends and relatives began coming to Christ and the church, it really started to sink in. Older members began to believe that maybe the church did have something to offer outsiders. As they heard the new Christians testify to the joy and excitement of their new faith, it really turned a lot of attitudes around. It’s been like a snowball picking up momentum as it rolls down the hill . . . it just keeps building on itself!”

Contagious enthusiasm and excitement invariably results when members see their long-time friends and relatives come into new life in Christ and their church. Morale level also builds as the new Christians, who are invariably enthusiastic about their new-found dimension to life, become active in the church. Making disciples and reaching the members of your Potential Congregation can uncover new dimensions of spiritual growth and vitality which you may never have thought existed in your church.

5. Your church, when it identifies its Potential Congregation, more effectively invests its resources.

An obvious concern of church leadership is good stewardship of resources. Poor stewardship invests the church’s time, money and most valuable commodity–people–in areas that do not produce a return. Yet, as we saw at the beginning of this book, much time and many people are being invested in methods of evangelism that do not result in comparable “harvest.” This does not happen when resources are invested and focused on a church’s Potential Congregation. These potential disciples have been identified as one of the most receptive groups of people in your community. It is simply good stewardship to respond to the people God has prepared, and do our part in bringing them into the Kingdom.

Because your church has identified these specific groups of people (members’ Extended Families) to whom you seek to communicate God’s love, you can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of various ministries in terms of new Christian disciples. Some approaches and programs for these people will be more effective than others. Effective strategy should be based on the ministries that bring results.

6. Your church, when it identifies its Potential Congregation, experiences a continually expanding congregation.

As members of your Potential Congregation make a commitment to Christ and become members of the Body and the Worshiping Congregation, they each have their own web of influence. As these new disciples are helped in their disciple-making plans, they identify members in their Extended Family and, as a result, increase the size of the Potential Congregation. And so the process begins all over again. This is exactly the way the early church grew . . . first by addition, then by multiplication.

* The term “Extended Family” is defined as the friends, relatives, neighbors, and associates of members who are presently outside of Christ and the church.

(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)

Christian Information Network